Posted on November 2, 2010 by Eryn
The importance of honoring your teachers
Studying Gemara sometimes feels like an experience in between reading a Supreme Court case fought by Rabbis over a few generations to watching a halachic discussion unfold (often with several tangents) on an E-mail list-serve or chat room.
Recently I was given a reminder of the etiquette of the Rabbis. At the top of Sanhedrin Chap. 4, 33a, the text is trying to see how two different Mishnayot that seem to contradict each other can actually work together. At the bottom of the page, we have already come up with two answers and have a sufficient answer to that problem; however we bring in one more possible proof as to how the two Mishnayot can work together, brought by Rav Chisda (a very well respected third generation Amora from Babylonia). Leah told our Gemara class that this idea is pursued simply because Rav Chisda is a great teacher and because the Rabbis who put the Talmud together want to honor him.
It becomes quite amusing watching the Rabbis do everything in their power on 33a/b to see if they can get the two Mishnayot to work together via Rav Chisda’s explanation. After finding that Rav Chisda’s explanation fits very well for one of the Mishnayot, the Gemara attempts with great difficulty to explain how this theory can also apply to the second Mishnah. The Stam (or anonymous editors of the Talmud) do not actually start questioning how Rav Chisda’s idea could work until it seems that the Rabbis have dug themselves into an intellectual hole. When it seems the Stam is ready to give up on Rav Chisda’s idea, when Ravina (a later Amora from Babylonia) just happens to save the day and shows how Rav Chisda’s idea could still work.
In the end though, whether Rav Chisda’s idea was accepted or not seems to be besides the point. If this idea had not been accepted, he would still have been considered a great Rabbi whose opinions and ideas should be taken seriously (think of the dissenting opinions that are written in Supreme Court cases).
This demonstration showed just one example of how important it is that we honor and learn from our teachers and use their ideas to further refine our understanding.